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Steve Buscemi on “Interview”

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By Aaron Hillis

IFC News

[Photos: Steve Buscemi and Sienna Miller in “Interview,” Sony Pictures Classics, 2007]

Perennial character actor Steve Buscemi is instantly recognizable for his roles in films like “Reservoir Dogs,” “Ghost World” and “The Big Lebowski,” and his indie cred has only been bolstered in the years since his filmmaking debut “Trees Lounge.” Even being in the spotlight, however, Buscemi pretty much loathes being interviewed, which couldn’t be more ironic, considering his fourth directorial feature is the 2007 Sundance drama “Interview.” The former Mr. Pink stars as political journalist Pierre Peters, a curmudgeonly egomaniac who can’t stomach that his editor has put him on the show-biz beat by assigning him to interview self-absorbed soap star Katya (Sienna Miller). Though they predictably clash from the get-go, circumstances force them to spend an evening together in her Manhattan loft, leading to a complex, often antagonistic, and ultimately revealing back-and-forth that leaves them both with their scars exposed… or does it? Based on the 2003 film of the same name by the late Dutch filmmaker Theo Van Gogh (who was murdered a year later for his political beliefs), “Interview” is the first installment of what’s intended to be a “Triple Theo” trilogy, a series of New York-based remakes that Van Gogh had planned to direct himself. Buscemi, who will hand off the project’s baton to actor-directors John Turturro and Stanley Tucci, was polite enough to grant an interview, but prefers to let the work speak for itself.

What do you think Van Gogh’s intentions were in remaking his own films?

Well, he loved American films and New York, and he wanted to work there — I think that was the simplest reason. All three films deal primarily with a relationship between a man and woman, essentially two-character pieces, and I think he felt that that would translate well. I don’t know specifically how he talked to actors, but I know he devised this system of shooting with three cameras so that they would always be on camera. He shot the films in sequence so there’d be that continuity, and he did these really long takes so that the actors could develop a rhythm with each other. He was also fond of shooting close-ups first. Typically, the close-ups are the last things that are shot, but by then, the actors are pretty well rehearsed. He was more interested in those unrehearsed performances.

You implement some of these techniques, but the two films still have distinctive tones.

I think it’s partly stylistic, and also a cultural thing. For me, the original is a little bit more intense, which I really loved. Theo’s version had more of a Buñuel quality to it; just the fact that they start dancing without any music, and then music comes in. It’s certainly more apparent in his film “Blind Date.” I’m probably more of a realist, and I like to justify everything. But I didn’t want to, nor could I make the same film that Theo made. That was understood from the beginning, that his film was just a starting point and the inspiration.

So reverence was never your intention?

When I watched the original, I felt like I was witnessing the break-up of a long-standing couple. I wanted to stay true to that, and I was less concerned about getting the details and plot points [accurate]. So we changed some of that, opened it up a bit. We added the restaurant scene; that location is not in the original. We changed the age of Pierre’s daughter and the nature of how she died, and his confession about the wife is different. The beginning scene with Pierre and his brother — who is really my brother, Michael Buscemi — they were not brothers in the original, just friends. There were little things like that, and we tailored the film more towards Sienna and I, our personalities or whatever we felt we could bring to it.

Having not been familiar with Van Gogh’s films prior, what motivated you to take on this project?

I love the performances that he got out of his actors, especially in “Interview.” I was drawn to the story and these characters that are seemingly from different worlds. There’s an age difference, and they both go into [the interview] with apprehension, or even disdain. But there’s a real connection made, and I was interested in what happens to that connection once it’s made. You know, why the need to sabotage it; what is in their personalities that drives the evening the way it does. It’s very much like a play, but I didn’t want it to look like a filmed play. Judging by the original, which was cinematically and visually interesting, I wasn’t too concerned. It was daunting as actors to start with those close-ups, and sometimes it gets exhausting doing long takes. But, by and large, I really enjoyed working that way.

How do you direct when you’re constantly in front of the camera?

It’s just a feeling that you get. I mean, what better way to observe than being right in the middle of it? Nowadays, with the advent of the video playback, you can always watch what you’ve done. Sometimes we would do three or four takes in a row, and then I would check the last one. Sometimes we’d just videotape the rehearsals; it was a little different each day. If I thought something was amiss during a take, I’d watch the playback to see what didn’t feel right. Other times, I didn’t need to. I could just tell where to make an adjustment in my performance or Sienna’s. By the nature in which it was shot, with all the handheld and [multiple cameras], I was pretty comfortable that we were getting a lot of interesting angles. I had a lot of trust in Thomas Kist, the DP. But it really makes me admire what Buster Keaton and Chaplin did, all those guys who directed themselves in the days before the video playback.

Do you think it’s necessary to like a movie’s characters to appreciate them?

Yeah, I would say so. I think characters can do unlikable things, but if you don’t care about them, it can get difficult to watch. It was important for this film that both characters be intriguing and likeable on some level. But what I like about people are sometimes their unlikable traits. I like complicated, complex people who have a past.

What question do you hate most in interviews?

It used to be when people would ask me to explain my whole life. [laughs] That gets tiring after a while. There’s a line in the film where I ask Katja, “Were you always interested in acting?” and she just bangs her head on the table. That one gets kind of old.

“Interview” opens in limited release on July 13th (official site).

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…

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IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.

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IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).

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IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.

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IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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Reality? Check.

Baroness For Life

Baroness von Sketch Show is available for immediate consumption.

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GIFs via Giphy

Baroness von Sketch Show is snowballing as people have taken note of its subtle and not-so-subtle skewering of everyday life. The New York Times, W Magazine, and Vogue have heaped on the praise, but IFC had a few more probing questions…

IFC: To varying degrees, your sketches are simply scripted examples of things that actually happen. What makes real life so messed up?

Aurora: Hubris, Ego and Selfish Desires and lack of empathy.

Carolyn: That we’re trapped together in the 3rd Dimension.

Jenn: 1. Other people 2. Other people’s problems 3. Probably something I did.

IFC: A lot of people I know have watched this show and realized, “Dear god, that’s me.” or “Dear god, that’s true.” Why do people have their blinders on?

Aurora: Because most people when you’re in the middle of a situation, you don’t have the perspective to step back and see yourself because you’re caught up in the moment. That’s the job of comedians is to step back and have a self-awareness about these things, not only saying “You’re doing this,” but also, “You’re not the only one doing this.” It’s a delicate balance of making people feel uncomfortable and comforting them at the same time.

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IFC: Unlike a lot of popular sketch comedy, your sketches often focus more on group dynamics vs iconic individual characters. Why do you think that is and why is it important?

Meredith: We consider the show to be more based around human dynamics, not so much characters. If anything we’re more attracted to the energy created by people interacting.

Jenn: So much of life is spent trying to work it out with other people, whether it’s at work, at home, trying to commute to work, or even on Facebook it’s pretty hard to escape the group.

IFC: Are there any comedians out there that you feel are just nailing it?

Aurora: I love Key and Peele. I know that their show is done and I’m in denial about it, but they are amazing because there were many times that I would imagine that Keegan Michael Key was in the scene while writing. If I could picture him saying it, I knew it would work. I also kind of have a crush on Jordan Peele and his performance in Big Mouth. Maya Rudolph also just makes everything amazing. Her puberty demon on Big Mouth is flawless. She did an ad for 7th generation tampons that my son, my husband and myself were singing around the house for weeks. If I could even get anything close to her career, I would be happy. I’m also back in love with Rick and Morty. I don’t know if I have a crush on Justin Roiland, I just really love Rick (maybe even more than Morty). I don’t have a crush on Jerry, the dad, but I have a crush on Chris Parnell because he’s so good at being Jerry.

Jenn: I LOVE ISSA RAE!

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IFC: If you could go back in time and cast yourselves in any sitcom, which would it be and how would it change?

Carolyn: I’d go back in time and cast us in The Partridge Family.  We’d make an excellent family band. We’d have a laugh, break into song and wear ruffled blouses with velvet jackets.  And of course travel to all our gigs on a Mondrian bus. I feel really confident about this choice.

Meredith: Electric Mayhem from The Muppet Show. It wouldn’t change, they were simply perfect, except… maybe a few more vaginas in the band.

Binge the entire first and second seasons of Baroness von Sketch Show now on IFC.com and the IFC app.

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G.I. Jeez

Stomach Bugs and Prom Dates

E.Coli High is in your gut and on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Brothers-in-law Kevin Barker and Ben Miller have just made the mother of all Comedy Crib series, in the sense that their Comedy Crib series is a big deal and features a hot mom. Animated, funny, and full of horrible bacteria, the series juxtaposes timeless teen dilemmas and gut-busting GI infections to create a bite-sized narrative that’s both sketchy and captivating. The two sat down, possibly in the same house, to answer some questions for us about the series. Let’s dig in….

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IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

BEN: Hi ummm uhh hi ok well its like umm (gets really nervous and blows it)…

KB: It’s like the Super Bowl meets the Oscars.

IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

BEN: Oh wow, she’s really cute isn’t she? I’d definitely blow that too.

KB: It’s a cartoon that is happening inside your stomach RIGHT NOW, that’s why you feel like you need to throw up.

IFC: What was the genesis of E.Coli High?

KB: I had the idea for years, and when Ben (my brother-in-law, who is a special needs teacher in Philly) began drawing hilarious comics, I recruited him to design characters, animate the series, and do some writing. I’m glad I did, because Ben rules!

BEN: Kevin told me about it in a park and I was like yeah that’s a pretty good idea, but I was just being nice. I thought it was dumb at the time.

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IFC: What makes going to proms and dating moms such timeless and oddly-relatable subject matter?

BEN: Since the dawn of time everyone has had at least one friend with a hot mom. It is physically impossible to not at least make a comment about that hot mom.

KB: Who among us hasn’t dated their friend’s mom and levitated tables at a prom?

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

BEN: There’s a lot of content now. I don’t think anyone will even notice, but it’d be cool if they did.

KB: A show about talking food poisoning bacteria is basically the same as just watching the news these days TBH.

Watch E.Coli High below and discover more NYTVF selections from years past on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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